Novak Djokovic claimed his 22nd Major title at the Australian Open. The Serb is ready to fight for the remaining three notable crowns of the season, hoping to play at his best in Paris, London and New York. However, the Serb is aware of the challenges ahead of him at Roland Garros.
Novak called Rafael Nadal the king of clay and the first favorite and mentioned Carlos Alcaraz as another formidable opponent. Rafa has not played since the Australian Open, struggling with a hip injury and hoping to recover for Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
A 14-time Roland Garros winner will throw everything at his Paris campaign, knowing it's his best chance to win a Major this year. Novak had to skip Indian Wells and Miami, but he looks motivated to find his A-game on clay in the upcoming weeks and seek his third Roland Garros crown.
Novak defeated Rafa in the semi-final in Paris two years ago en route to his second clay-court Major. Nadal avenged that loss last year, facing Djokovic in the quarter-final and beating him 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 in four hours and 12 minutes.
Despite the cold, heavy and slow conditions on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Nadal produced his A-game to beat Djokovic after another memorable marathon.
Novak Djokovic calls Rafael Nadal the Roland Garros favorite.
After a slow start, Novak recovered his game in the second set and threw everything he had at Rafa in the fourth, only to miss a set point and drop a tie break.
Rafa made the difference with his second serve, keeping it safe and overpowering Novak in the pivotal moments. Nadal saved eight out of 12 break chances and turned 43% of the return points into seven breaks from 17 opportunities.
The Spaniard dictated the pace with 57 winners and 43 unforced errors, leaving the Serb on a 48-53 ratio. Rafa had a massive advantage in the shortest range up to four strokes. He overpowered Novak in the most extended exchanges to seal the deal and preserve some energy for the semi-final clash.
Nadal's run turned into misery following his 22nd Major crown last June, and it will be tough for him to return to his best and beat the rivals like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jannik Sinner, Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz. However, the Spaniard has won 14 of the previous 18 Roland Garros events, and no one should underestimate him, something Novak knows more than well.
"The clay season is starting; it's my most challenging surface. I grew up on clay, and I like playing on it. Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open are the three most significant tournaments remaining, and I will do everything to bring my A-game.
I hope to peak and Paris and chase the Roland Garros title. Rafael Nadal is the king of clay and the top favorite. Carlos Alcaraz is there too, and we are in a good era," Novak Djokovic said.